Identifying close contacts is becoming more and more difficult

Coronavirus testing sign.
Coronavirus testing sign. Source: ERR

It is becoming more and more difficult to identify close contacts and when contacts cannot be identified, restrictions are inevitable, health experts have said about the rising rate of coronavirus in Estonia.

In the middle of October, Estonia had one of the lowest rates of coronavirus in Europe but the number of people infected with coronavirus on a single day passed 200 people several days last week, setting new records. 

Now, every second source of infection is not identified in Tallinn and Harju County and the virus has started to spread hiddenly, weekly ETV current news show "Aktuaalne kaamera. Nädal" reported on Sunday.

"It [the virus] tends not to move with an even spread but with increasing outbreaks," modeler of the coronavirus, Maro Kadastik, said.

Kadastik said the rapid increase in the number of cases was expected because the infection rate, known as R which shows how many people become infected by a single patient, has stayed between 1.2 and 1.4 in the recent weeks. Ideally, it should be below 1 and the lower the better.

By Saturday (November 7) the rate had risen to 1.5, which means two infected people will spread the virus to three people. Even if the infection rate does not increase, it would be a serious danger to the Estonian health care system because the hospitals would be full of coronavirus patients by the end of the year.

"If the covid places get filled up, more of them need to be added from other places because we can't put covid patients with other patients. If the system will go off track entirely, as it has in some places in the world, where hospitals are full of covid patients, we will have a situation where we can't treat other problems which are curable," he said.

The coronavirus hospital departments will need more personnel and this is why it is not possible to add lots of additional beds. Kadastik said it is important to make an effort to get the situation under control before the critical limit is reached.

He believes it is possible to talk about the start of a tsunami not about the virus spreading in waves. "It will stay in little waves until the Health Board manages to identify most of the contacts," he said.

Health Board epidemiologist Irina Dontšenko said the Northern Regional Department inspectors are doing their best to identify contacts and the automated calling robot which calls contacts has helped a lot. The coronavirus detectives also have 10 assistants who call people.

Dontšeko said the Health Board may stop looking for close contacts in a situation where the virus is out of control. "It is very important now that we all do the right thing because everything is in our hands," she said.

Kadastik said when the power of the coronavirus detectives subsides, there will be no escape from the general restrictions.

"In the case of any exponential growth, the longer the growth, the harder it is to eliminate the situation so the sooner we manage to get it under the control, the less effort it will take to get rid of the virus."

How can the spread of coronavirus be stopped?

  • The most efficient measure is keeping your distance.
  • In crowded places and especially indoors where it is not possible to keep your distance from other people, it is advisable to wear a mask.
  • Closed, crowded spaces should be avoided if possible.
  • Hands must be washed frequently with soap and warm water.
  • When you sneeze or cough, cover your mouth and nose with disposable tissue.
  • Anyone who becomes ill should stay at home, even if their symptoms are mild.
  • People who develop any symptoms should contact their family physician.

Download 'HOIA'

You can also download Estonia's coronavirus exposure notification app 'HOIA' which will alert you if you have been in close contact with someone who later tests positive for coronavirus.

The free app can be downloaded at the Google Play Store or App Store. Read ERR News' feature about the app here. 


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Editor: Roberta Vaino, Helen Wright

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